We have heard of the Great Wall of China. But have you heard about the Great Wall of Premier Academy which some of us believe is more impressive and more important that the Chinese relic?
Why? Because first, the Chinese wall is meant to keep people out, but the Great Wall of Premier is meant to welcome you into a world of creativity and light.
Second, the Chinese built that wall centuries ago in preparation for battle and to identify boundaries. The Premier wall promotes peace and unity among Kenyan peoples and the rest of the world.
And third, because the bricklayers who erected the Chinese wall were most likely either employed or enslaved to do nothing but bricklaying as a life work.
But the team of Kenyan artists who created, not the cement but the mural on the Premier wall all chose to participate in an amazing project in which they worked in total tandem with the school’s bosses who believe in creativity as a core value in education.
The mural on the wall near the open-air playground at Premier Academy is ‘great’ for several reasons. First, simply as an expression of awe and amazement at the marvelous story the mural graphically reveals about Kenya as a diverse and beautiful country.
It’s also great in terms of magnitude and size, “The mural is 57.5 meters by 3.5 meters [or 62.8 yards by 3.8 yards],” says Krishna Vaya, Deputy Head of the School and one of the art teachers who was instrumental in advancing the mural project.
She was wholeheartedly supported by her Head, Mr Jacob Orondo who went to bat with the school board for the mural project to take off.
“Our school has started holding art competitions, and one of our students recently won the Total Kenya Art Competition,” says Mr. Orondo. “The school as well as our student won cash prizes, so we decided to use our prize to promote local artists and the creation of the mural,” he adds.
Orondo and Vaya were the first ones to conceptualize what this vast blank wall would ‘say’ to their students. “We wanted the wall to be a ‘learning wall’,” says Mary Muringi, another one of Premier’s art teachers who is a member of what Orondo calls the school’s new MAD Department.
“MAD stands for music, art, and drama,” says Orondo. “I’m the curriculum man and we want to integrate the arts as an essential part of our curriculum.”
As one steps down a few stairs into the playground area, the mural on your left stretches out to display iconic images of Kenya, starting from Lake Victoria and local fishermen all the way down to sailboats at the Indian Ocean. Literally, the artwork takes one on a journey that visually narrates some of the leading features of Kenya’s culture and economy.
“These include everything from coffee and tea plantations to the Big Five [lion, leopard, rhino, water buffalo, and elephant], and many more iconic images,” says Krishna. There are also runners from Iten, the SGR and the new Super Highway, Maasai morans, and professional people (an engineer, doctor, High Court Judge, and Army General).
The artist initially called on to lead the painterly project was Michael Musyoka. “He had been a keynote speaker at one of our awards nights, so the Heads suggested we call on him to participate,” recalls Muringi. After he confirmed, he called several other artists to form his team.
They included David Thuku (both cofounders of Brush tu Artists Collective), Munene Kariuki, Harrison Chege, and Samuel Njoroge.
Asked to identify which artist painted which image, Mary says it’s impossible to say one person painted which image. “They all were contributing to every scene,” she says. But then she recalls that Thuku actually painted the SGR train and Musyoka painted the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River.
But otherwise, it was the team using weather-proof paints provided by the school that created this amazing geographical journey from one end of Kenya to the other.
The other thing that makes the wall exceptional is that it has served to show students the process of painting and taking on such a major challenge. “I would bring my art students out almost every day to see the changes taking place on the wall from one day to the next,” says Krishna.
Both she and Orondo were emphatic about how important a role they see art playing in children’s education. “Art is a mandatory subject for our younger students,” says Mary Muringi who is a practicing artist herself.